JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - A federal judge has found evidence that Jacksonville Fire Rescue discriminated against blacks, Hispanics and women in its promotions and refused to dismiss a lawsuit filed against the city of Jacksonville in 2012.
In an order filed Tuesday, Judge Timothy Corrigan denied motions by the city and the Jacksonville Association of Firefighters for a summary judgment in favor of the city, so litigation continues.
Corrigan wrote that after reviewing 10 recent tests in which white candidates scored higher than black candidates, he found nine that showed "statistical evidence of a kind and degree sufficient to show that the practice in question has caused the exclusion of applicants from jobs and promotions because of their membership in a protected group."
Jacksonville General Counsel Jason Gabriel responded to the ruling on Wedneday.
"This is a preliminary determination that the lawsuits can survive as alleged without a further detailed exploration of the merits," Gabriel wrote in a statement. "Now the city will have the opportunity to demonstrate on the merits that the promotional tests in question are valid and fair."
A separate lawsuit against the city filed in 2013 by the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law alleges that JFRD subjects African-American employees to a hostile and racially charged work environment, in violation of the Civil Rights Act.
Two years ago, the committee said that while Jacksonville's population was 30.7 percent African-American, only as few as 20 percent of firefighters was black.
The committee said JFRD has a long history of discrimination against black employees. It said the department became subject to a consent decree in 1971 pursuant to a class-action lawsuit, Coffey vs. Braddy, which focused on discrimination in hiring of entry-level firefighters. The decree was amended in 1984 to require 1:1 hiring until the percentage of black firefighters equaled the percentage of blacks in the local population. The city unilaterally ceased 1:1 hiring in 1992.
In 2006, two African-American firefighters employed by JFRD opened their lockers to find nooses hanging inside. The act prompted an investigation by the Jacksonville Human Rights Commission into claims of discriminatory practices and a racially hostile work environment. A report issued by HRC in August 2006 confirmed a widespread pattern and practice of discrimination against African-Americans in JFRD.
NAACP and JBOF filed charges with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in July 2008, alleging discrimination in hiring, promotion, and terms and conditions of work by JFRD. On June 5, 2009, the EEOC issued a letter of determination, which found that the JFRD engaged in the alleged discrimination. The parties entered into mediation. As a result of the failure to reach agreement on the promotion claims, the Department of Justice filed suit against the city of Jacksonville alleging a pattern or practice of race discrimination in promotions in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
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